early 15c., in alchemy, "a tempering, a refining of something to a certain degree; measurement according to the four degrees of a quality," from graduate (n.). General sense of "a dividing into degrees" is from 1590s; meaning "action of receiving or giving an academic degree" is from early 15c.; in reference to the ceremony where a degree is given, from 1818.
Gradus ad Parnassum
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